Yeah, yeah I know. Weird label. Weird name.
So some background, I’ve hit on wines from this vineyard before, the Momtazi Vineyard (there’s also some fruit from a smaller, lesser known site called Johan). Both are farmed biodynamically and organically, which is something we should spend a few moments on.
I think most consumers these days are pretty accustomed to the rules governing organic farming. Some major regions like Sonoma have stayed away from chasing the designation, in large part because it can tie your hands a bit. There are times when powdery mildew creeps in, or when a certain pest becomes overwhelming that a grower might want to make damn sure they’ve taken care of the problem. Rightly or wrongly, although they often argue the point, vineyards aren’t as ecologically diverse as a forest and that type of monoculture is ripe for pests (they’ll better than corn fields though).
In terms of biodynamic farming, there are some theories which seem spot on according to basically everyone I speak with. Burying cow horns and letting them partially ferment in the ground, then digging them up and spreading the resulting compost…..seems like a next step in the evolution of a self serving system. Other stuff is taking away winemaker control though according to many, such as picking on a specific day. Winemakers basically rage against that concept, yet are happy enough to schedule a crew a day or two after their intended pick date if no other alternative exists.
Winemaker Jesse Skiles is an interesting guy. He calls himself a cook first, winemaker second. He’s also a millennial. That’s something I notice in large part because of my own age. I started my business when I was about 30. Signed the final permits in the hospital when my son was born after a 6 month process with alcohol-beverage-control (yes my wife is as supportive as she sounds). All told, I’m right on the border of being a millennial or not. I hope I can take some of the positive aspects of the culture and add in some of my own. Yes, work life balance is important. I bring all that up because, there aren’t that many people a handful of years younger than me sitting in the winemaking chair for their own brand yet. That’s changing because I’m getting older, but also the industry is beginning to skew a bit younger on the winemaking side of the ledger as well. It’s a good thing, newer perspectives are always a positive in an artistic endeavor.
So Fausse Piste means something along the lines of red herring, or even the lack of success in its native French. Skiles sees himself as much more than a standard American winemaker, in many ways he sees the Rhone Valley as his natural spot and a natural accompaniment for what he’s trying to accomplish. A wild ride of restaurant careers led him to the Culinary Institute in New York, back to Oregon and then to Washington before he eventually had a winery and restaurant sharing a 2,800 square foot space in Portland. I’ve seen a lot of small spaces over the years, but this might take 2nd place (Tom Rees makes Pine and Brown in downtown Napa out of a converted 1 car garage, a setup no one should ever enter into).
Skiles heart still stays with the Rhone’s. But, I do so damn many of those and at times, people want something more expected. Enter an Oregon Pinot Noir. He’ll tell you, this is a more food friendly wine. In part I agree, but I also think it’s important to note how darn acidic this thing is. That’s partially winemaker choices, it’s partially simply Oregon Pinot, but it’s also farming practices. We know a few things about different farming practices and how they help control what happens in the winery. Using native yeast as an example, lowers alcohol content given equal amounts of sugar. In this case, organic and biodynamic farming tend to increase acidity, compared to conventional counterparts in the same regions. While people that spend a lot more time with wine grapes than I do, can argue over why at length, I think there’s one fairly certain conclusion. A well managed, organic or biodynamic vineyard often leads to healthier plants overall than does a conventionally farmed one. Healthier plants tend to have berries with both, more liquid inside of them as well as higher sugar content (think of a sweeter strawberry as an example). Those things added up, should produce a more acidic wine. Really, the acidity that we all taste is the ratio of tannin (skin) to acid (juice). Some berries have thicker skins. Some berries are smaller (this is largely dependent on location, mountain berries are dramatically smaller). But vineyard practices might move the needle 10-15% in one direction or another. If you’re encouraging acid, you can let grapes hang longer on the vine, perhaps creating more easily distinguishable tastes.
Last: This is being included in a couple of wine clubs in the coming months. It’s a fun, good wine.